Help me find this Cicero quote
September 7, 2008 12:57 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone help me track down this Cicero quote? I believe it is in a letter, to his son (?), saying something along the lines of: science is great and all, but why study the course of the stars when you don't know what's in your own soul first?

I heard this referred to by Rufus Fears on this or this but I can't for the life of me find it on Google. I trust that he wasn't just making it up, or so liberal in his re-telling that it's impossible to find. Thank you, hive mind!
posted by ac to Religion & Philosophy (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe referring to this:

"No one sees what is before his feet. We all gaze at the stars" (source)...

I tried different variations of keywords from your description and couldn't find anything that really matched.
posted by amyms at 1:28 AM on September 7, 2008

Best answer: Is it this?
In my opinion the duties derived from the relations of society have a closer adaptation to nature than those which are derived from knowledge, as may be established by this argument, — that should such a life fall to the lot of a wise man that in the full abundance of all things and in entire leisure he could consider and contemplate within his own mind whatever is worth knowing, yet, were his solitude such that he could never see a human face, he would rather die. Then, too, the chief of all the virtues, that wisdom which the Greeks term ?? ??? (for prudence, which the Greeks call ???????, has another, narrower meaning, namely, the knowledge of things to be sought and shunned), — the wisdom which I have designated as chief of the virtues is the knowledge of things divine and human, which comprises the mutual fellowship and communion of gods and men. But if wisdom is the greatest of the virtues, as it undoubtedly is, it follows of necessity that the duty derived from this fellowship and communion is the greatest of duties. Moreover, the knowledge and contemplation of nature are somehow defective and imperfect, unless they lead to some result in action; and this appropriate action is best recognized in care for the well-being of mankind. The virtue from which it springs belongs, then, to the sodality of the human race, and is therefore to be preferred to knowledge. That this is so, every excellently good man shows and indicates in very deed. For who is there so deeply interested in penetrating and understanding the nature of things, that if, while he is handling and contemplating subjects most worthy of being understood, there is suddenly announced to him some danger and peril of his country in which he can render aid and succor, will not abandon and fling away his learned pursuits, even though he imagines that he can number the stars and find out the dimensions of the universe? And he would do the same thing in the business or in the peril of a father or a friend. It is thus seen that the duties of justice which concern the interests of our fellow-men, than which nothing ought to be more sacred to man, are to have precedence over the pursuits and duties of knowledge.
Cicero, On Duties, Book I, pp43

posted by carsonb at 1:34 AM on September 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to see if that worked. Cool!
posted by carsonb at 1:38 AM on September 7, 2008

The first site you link to specifies Cicero's De officiis (On Duties). I did a little searching, and found this quote in Book I, section 154 of the work:

Who, indeed, is so eager to examine and learn about the natural sciences that, if some alarming news quite worthy of his attention, a threat toward his homeland which he could counteract, were suddenly announced to him in the middle of his studies, he could not leave it all behind, even if he truly thought he could count out all the stars or measure the size of the world?

Cicero, wrapping up his point, adds:

From these arguments it can be understood that duties born of justice take precedence over those born of a thirst for knowledge, since the former pertains to the good of mankind, to which nothing should be more important to any man.

Sorry for the slightly awkward translation, but it's 4 in the morning.
posted by Bromius at 1:42 AM on September 7, 2008

Yeah, carsonb has it. That's what I get for working so slowly.
posted by Bromius at 1:43 AM on September 7, 2008

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